Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
Part Three of 'Lord of the Rings'; 2003's Top 10 movie list

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 5, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

I have been slow to see Peter Jackson’s final film in his Lord of the Rings cycle. Not familiar with the books by J.R.R. Tolkien, I have found it hard to keep characters straight in the two earlier films. The three-and-a-half-hour length has held me back and I was afraid it would be like boring homework. To the many fans of both books and films these are words of heresy.

However, I can report to you that The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King is fairly easy to follow for the non-Ring viewer and, as a movie, in the long term will be seen as the classic of its genre. Of the three Ring films I was pulled into The Return of the King with the most interest in and identification with the characters. I’m sorry; Gollum still strikes me with the same cringe in the stomach caused by fingernails going across a blackboard. Also the film has at least 10 good spots where it could have ended before it did.

All the above being said, The Return of the King is a mammoth completion of an epic, with vistas that don’t stop, battles that are incredible, and a merging of all kinds of modern film technique to bring about a majestic coherent whole. Yes, Return of the King is well worth seeing.

The film begins with a flashback to Gollum’s dark connection to the Ring and moves quickly as the Hobbits, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), with Gollum (Andy Serkis), continue their journey to Mount Doom, where ring bearer Frodo hopes to destroy the evil ring. At the same time Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is waging war to distract the evil powers from Frodo’s crucial goal. Active in the war against evil is the old wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who flies through the film on a white horse doing heroic deeds any man of 65 could only dream about.

The continuing attacks on city of Gondor by the orcs with elephants, giant prehistoric birds and barges of troops make for some of the most dramatic battle scenes ever filmed.

The Return of the King places lots of emphasis on the Hobbits. This focus on the Hobbits gives us some humor in a very heavy story. The Hobbits are also given a chance to show their courage defending Gondor and on the battle field.

The elf Arwen (Liv Tyier) and the niece of King Theoden, Eowyn (Miranda Otto) are the key women characters in this epic. Eowyn, disguised as a soldier, bravely takes on one of the flying prehistoric birds. But it will be Arwen who in marriage will help Aragorn claim the kingdom.

If you have any fear of spiders be prepared for one of the most terrifying spider visuals ever filmed as Frodo seeks to get by the lair of Shelob, the giant spider to end all spiders.

The magnificence of The Return of the King is a credit to New Zealand director Peter Jackson. His seven-year effort pays off on the screen with visual effects that will not soon be topped. He has taken Tolkien’s vast novel and visualized it for the 21st-century audience. From now on Jackson’s vision will always be associated with Tolkien’s. On top of his incredible achievement Jackson has even made Lord of the Rings assessable for those of us who long ago gave up on ploughing through three huge books. Jackson deserves all the praise he is receiving.

The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King is rated PG-13 because of intense battle sequences and some very frightening images.

The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King is rated A-3 – for adults – by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting.


Top Ten Movies of the Year

The Academy Awards have been moved up about a month this year, to Sunday, Feb. 29. As a result most of the possible nominees have or are playing in our area.

• The best movie of the year is Mystic River. Clint Eastwood powerfully directs a story of three friends who are forever affected by the sexual abuse of one of them when they were children. Within the context of a murder mystery we see the three grown men tragically confront the past and the present and the future. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon give the best acting of their careers.

• Young Sofia Coppola in her second film, Lost in Translation, tells the poignant story of two lonely people in a Tokyo Hotel confronting the meaning of life. There is lots of humor in this small, quiet film. Bill Murray’s portrayal of the Hollywood star past his prime doing whiskey commercials for a Japanese audience is as good as it gets. Young Scarlett Johansson as the 24-year-old wife of a fashion photographer faces her own disappointment in marriage. Johansson is stunning. Identity and aloneness: Seldom does a Hollywood movie go there with such power.

• Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King is a monumental achievement in the epic fantasy genre. The third film in the cycle is the most enjoyable and easiest to follow. It does have some trouble deciding when to end, but it is an incredible creation of giant vistas, great battle scenes and the use of all forms of modern film equipment.

House of Sand and Fog, from the novel by Andre Dubus III, is one of the darkest contemporary tragedies ever filmed. The young Ukrainian director Vadim Perelman pulls out all the stops as he brings his actors to powerful achievements. Ben Kingsley as the Iranian immigrant who buys the family home of Jennifer Connelly caught in a tax mixup by the county gives the performance of a lifetime. Connelly is excellent as the American who is falling apart and sees her home as her last possession that gives her life meaning.

Finding Nemo is the Pixar Studio’s family story of the love of a father for his son. The computer-generated animation is beautiful. Ellen DeGeneres as the voice of Dory is wonderful. The journey of Nemo’s Dad and Dory to Sidney Harbor to find Nemo is delightful, scary and finally filled with hope.

• Peter Wier’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a beautiful epic of sailing ships in 1805 off the coast of South America. Russell Crowe is perfect as the Captain of the HMS Surprise. Paul Bettany as the doctor of the ship gives us a contrasting character to the Captain. Their story makes this epic come alive with real human beings you care about.

Seabiscuit is the powerful story of a horse who wasn’t suppose to win. But the real story that puts a lump in your throat is the story of how three wounded men helped a horse find greatness. Jeff Bridges as the owner, Chris Cooper as the trainer, and Tobey Maguire as the jockey make Seabiscuit an enthralling account of triumph in the midst of adversity.

The Station Agent is, by comparison, the smallest film of our Top 10 selections. It is the tender story of a dwarf (Peter Dinklage) who likes trains and avoids people. Patricia Clarkson is perfect as a mother mourning the death of her young son. She and Bobby Cannavale allow The Station Agent to affect their lives.

• Tim Burton’s Big Fish is the extravagant, beautiful film of a father who loves to tell tall tales. A grown son tries to come to grips with his realization that he doesn’t really know his Dad and he hasn’t liked all the flamboyant stories he has heard all his life. It’s all about how do we really know our parents. Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney are great as the Dad, younger and, older. Jessica Lange shines as the mother who does understand.

Bend It Like Beckham is a wonderful film about a young Anglo-Indian high school student who wants to be a great soccer player. But below it all it is a film about understanding differences among ethnic groups and seeing the basic goodness of human beings. An uplifting film for families.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews frequently appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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